Three years of successive challenges and crises pushed Cyprus to redesign its policies to strengthen connectivity. Mr Yiannis Karousos, Minister of Transport, Communications and Works, spoke to us about the constructive cooperation of all PARTIES involved.
Text: Yiannnis Seitanides
The Russian invasion of Ukraine posed a challenge to Cypriot tourism. The initial fear of a bad year in tourism did not materialise. What tools enhanced air connectivity?
The improvement in connectivity and recovery, especially after the harsh restrictions of the pandemic, succeeded for several reasons. I became the first Minister of Transport to close airports (laughing). It is easy to close airports; the hard part is to open them again. There was close cooperation between the Ministry of Transport, the Deputy Ministry of Tourism and the airport manager. Every crisis creates opportunities, and we worked with all parties to prepare an action plan. We were the first country to have a plan for the resumption of flights, introducing the category of origin for travellers. Airlines don’t want their planes relegated to the ground. By dealing with the uncertainty, we achieved good results in connectivity. Simultaneously, we supported the whole effort with a temporary incentive plan approved by the European Commission. We saw flights to destinations –Paris, for example– that we hadn’t before or where there wasn’t sufficient connectivity. Then came Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the imposition of sanctions. We lost about 20-25% of tourism and passenger traffic. We also addressed this situation with a combination of connectivity enhancement actions. As a result, we are performing better than expected. The numbers are at about 80% of arrivals tallied from 2019. If the invasion had not occurred, Cyprus and Greece would have been the only countries in the European Union with increased air transport compared to 2019. We have not filled the gap but are in a better position.
European passengers suffered from delays last summer. There were zero delays in Cypriot airspace in 2022. How was this result achieved?
We significantly upgraded the infrastructure of the Civil Aviation Department. We are running the most comprehensive technological upgrade, including air control, an investment programme amounting to approximately 17 million euros. In collaboration with the civil aviation services of Israel and Greece, it has allowed us to redesign busy airstrips serving more than 1,200 flights per day without delay. The efficiency of the Nicosia Air Traffic Control Centre was evident in 2021. Due to the absence of delays in Cyprus, we saved 5.6 million nautical miles of flight, 44,000 tons of fuel, and 140,000 tons of CO2.
You have served as mayor of Ayia Napa, the flagship of Cypriot tourism. Therefore, you know the needs of the tourism industry. How does the Ministry of Transport and Works help tourism?
Three conditions need addressing to ensure success. First is visitor satisfaction. Second, that businesses and employees prosper. Third, residents remain proud of their country. To achieve these, you must have “the complete tourism experience.” That is, to provide an experience to your guests so that, when they return home, they take a bit of the destination with them in hopes that they will return. In addition to the work done on connectivity, the Ministry of Transport is also implementing major road projects that significantly reduce distances. It will be much easier for someone from Ayia Napa to go to Troodos or the district of Polis Tis Chrysochous, from one end of Cyprus to the other. But the biggest project that will help tourism is the Νew Cyprus Museum in Nicosia, an investment of around 120 million euros. It will be a landmark attracting thousands of visitors to Nicosia, the first choice for every visitor to Cyprus.